policy analysts, social agencies and sex workers, especially those of immature
age, caught in a web of financial dependency and exploitation must still be
wondering why Minister Charlene Johnson and RNC Deputy Chief Bill Janes
undertook to suppress a study on the sex trade and admonish CBC reporter, Adam Walsh, for releasing excerpts.
a 2011 Report on sexual exploitation titled: “It’s Nobody’s Mandate and
Everyone’s Responsibility: Sexual Exploitation and the Sex Trade in
Newfoundland and Labrador”. Johnson and
Janes wanted it neither released nor discussed, stating it was too harmful.
not prepared to disclose even as much information as contained in a CD freely
distributed throughout the school system.
Their reasons may have been poor articulation or a more paternalistic notion,
one implied but not announced” “we know what’s good for you”. Either way, their stonewalling was baffling.
I thought it
might be useful to invoke, in the absence of any high sounding words from the
Minister or the Deputy Chief, those of more thoughtful people:
overarching purpose of access to information legislation … is to facilitate
democracy. It does so in two related ways. It helps to ensure first, that
citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the
democratic process, and secondly, that politicians and bureaucrats remain
accountable to the citizenry. – Gerard
LaForest, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, in Dagg vs. Canada (1997)
secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that
does not show it can bear discussion and publicity. – Lord Acton, English historian, writer and
and Lord Acton are voices of caution against secrecy for its own reward.
of the public agree, too, that though it may be inconvenient, citizens have a
right and a need to access most of the information government collects. Hence, governments
should be niggardly, not with exposure, but with secrecy.
Minister and the Deputy Chief had suggested that before release they should first
protect innocent victims, informants or other vulnerable participants identified
in the Study, who would have questioned that obligation? The media would have asked, as it did: “why
the government couldn’t redact sensitive information, but release other parts
of the report”.
incomprehensible reply was: “You’re missing the whole point. The whole point is
that, by even saying that we’re doing a piece of work around this, will cause
potential harm to these people involved. That’s the whole point.” As if Johnson had not slammed the door
enough, she chose to compound a closed mind, adding: “even acknowledging the
existence of the report causes potential harm to public safety.”
comments are not just incredulous. They are
airing a serious social problem will exacerbate it is to misunderstand the
fundamental process of repair; it is to misrepresent her role as a legislator
and policy maker.
sports a cavalier, even dangerous view of how and secrecy should be employed and
of its limited benefit. She invites the kind of response received from
Dr. Winters, a PhD candidate who researches sex work and who commented, at
length, following the Minister’s and Deputy’s news briefing.
Winters: “…by sitting on it, the government is saying, ‘You know, really, you
don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that this is happening in this province, and
you know, we’re not really going to do anything about it.”
basis would the Minister expect the community to draw a different conclusion?
elected official gets carried away with an unwise narrative, or becomes engaged
in flights of rhetorical flourish it is always hoped that someone, close by,
will step in and rescue her from pedagogical embarrassment.
expert accompanying the inexpert Minister might contribute some greater logic, offer
more contextual insight or strong proof of how releasing a redacted document or
giving it mere mention, might offend the public interest.
Deputy Chief, Bill Janes, to the reporter’s evident horror, chose not elaborate
upon but to reinforce the Minister’s assertions. Said Janes, “I will say that every question I
answer puts more information into the public domain, which provides more
information to those who could potentially do harm to others.”
said, “the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary advised against releasing the
report, and they are the experts on public safety.”
true it seems Minister Johnson did not exercise judgment, or lacked it, having
failed to assess the credibility of the RNC’s advice.
Minister and the Deputy Chief, having viewed the Report’s excerpts on the CBC’s
web site, must have asked themselves: why didn’t we release that much?
Government of which Ms. Johnson is a part has a reputation for secrecy. It is well earned and not to its credit. If
secrecy were anomalous for this Administration just possibly the CBC and social
services groups might be prepared to cut it some slack.
29, the Minister ought to know the public is in no mood for yet more kneejerk
default to secrecy.
Janes should need no reminding that, while the police services are an arm of
the Government, its independence is fundamental. It must never allow itself to be an appendage
of the Government’s propaganda machine.
Gerard LaForest was known for
his intellect and the clarity with which he wrote his judgments. Deputy Chief Janes will want to enlarge his
reading list to include a selection of the Decisions of the former Judge and perhaps
the sage words of Lord Acton, too.
Johnston must know this was not one of the RNC’s finest moments.